The 2011 Heritage Classic will take place tonight at McMahon Stadium in front of 40,000 freezing fans.
The match between the Calgary Flames and the visiting Montreal Canadiens looked far from important early in the season. However, a slump from Montreal and a revival by the Flames makes the two points that are on the line tonight extremely important.
Calgary are currently one of the hottest teams in the league, having won six out of their last ten games, including only one loss in regulation -
last Saturday in Vancouver. A win tonight for Brent Sutter’s side would give them a great boost for a stint at the Saddledome that lasts until the end of the month.
Montreal’s injury problems have meant the Habs haven’t won since demolishing the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday. The Canadiens have lost five of their last six games, and are desperate for a big win to relaunch their playoff chase.
Jacques Martin has been without Mike Cammalleri and Hal Gill but they both seem set to be ready to face the Flames. Cammalleri has been out of action for a month and could give the Habs a much needed boost offensively.
James Wisniewski has been sensational for the Habs since his trade from the New York Islanders. The blue-liner already has 16 points in 20 games. Despite being struck in the face by a puck in Montreal’s embarrassing 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Thursday, it is likely Wisniewski will take part in the Heritage Classic.
Calgary has been a different team since the turn of the year. On December 23, the Flames were 14th in the Western Conference – only two points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers. However, a great run of results has thrown them straight into the playoff mix.
“We know that those two points might be the difference for us getting in and us getting out,” said Flames forward and former Canadien Alex Tanguary. “So we have to make sure that we don’t give away games. Our fans are certainly going to help us a lot more on that one. It’s going to be very loud outside with 40-plus thousand fans.”
In truth, the game is likely to be a tense affair with the result outweighing any ceremony or heritage. One thing is for sure though – both teams have the opportunity to rejuvenate their march towards the playoffs, in front of a bumper crowd, and we could see a few surprises tonight in freezing Calgary.